Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Canadian Culinary Championships 2016 Part 2

09 Feb


The Black Box. Judge invigilator Andrew Morrison and last year's Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Ryan O'Flynn in conversation. Photo credit Bonne Belle Photography and Bonnie Donovan

The Black Box. Judge invigilator Andrew Morrison and last year’s Canadian Culinary Champion, Chef Ryan O’Flynn in conversation.
Photo credit Bonne Belle Photography and Bonnie Donovan

Up with the lark to join the jostling, coffee-fuelled throng of chefs, sous chefs, judges and camera crews in the lobby of the hotel at 7:25. Two coaches took us all down to Okanagan College’s campus and the Culinary Arts building where the chefs would compete in the infamous black box competition. This year, in an effort to encourage imaginative thinking, I boosted the marks awarded for creativity and chose ingredients for the box that weren’t obviously connected but offered – indeed, demanded – thinking outside the box. Together with a very well-endowed communal pantry, these are the seven ingredients each chef found in his box. He had to use all seven in a single dish and make 13 plates of the dish…

Two pounds of ground elk meat, donated by Two Rivers Specialty Meats in B.C. Two pounds of whole squid, donated by Jon Crofts of Codfathers, the extraordinary fish and seafood store in Kelowna. The squid would have to be cleaned of innards, quill, ink sack, beak and eyes before they could be used. A bag of delicate, beautifully colourful Nova Scotian hana tsunomata seaweed, donated by Taste of Nova Scotia. One pound of red lentils donated by Story Farm in Saskatchewan and sourced by our judge, Noelle Chorney. One pound of roasted, unsalted jumbo peanuts, donated by the man who farmed them, John Picard of Picard’s Peanuts in Ontario. One jar of ox-eye daisy capers, foraged in the Gaspé and donated by Jonathan Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods. And finally two pounds of local salsify, donated by Mona Johannson of Sunshine Farms in Kelowna.

And so we began, with an audience of 120 crowded into the test kitchens and the close-up handiwork projected onto big screens and live across the country via the internet. There is room for three chefs at a time in the kitchen and a new one was brought in every 15 minutes and given an hour to devise and cook his dish. Here, in the broadest terms, is what they came up with.

Andrews Black Box  Credit all food photographs to Dion Nel Photography

Andrews Black Box
Credit all food photographs to Deon Nel Photography

Roger Andrews stuffed his whole squid with the elk and plated one elegant slice per judge. As a dressing he raided the pantry to make a fresh-tasting tomato and mint concassé. He fried the chunky squid tentacles and laid one on top. The lentils and peanuts became a well-textured braise and he turned the salsify and capers into a smooth cream alongside. The beautiful red and green seaweed, soft as snippets of silk, were tossed with shaved carrot ribbons and lightly dressed as a garnish.



Salvador Black Box

Salvador Black Box

Martín Ruiz Salvador cooked the ground elk with basil, garlic and tomato and then he too used it as a farce inside the squid. The slice each judge was given stood tall on the plate, based in a spoonful of creamy white salsify purée and dressed with a few drops of fragrant basil oil. A second, separate component on the plate was a scrumptious salad of fried squid tentacles, cooked lentils, mushrooms and fried capers. It lay in a gorgeous peanut broth enriched with tomatoes he roasted in the pan he had used for the squid, white wine, chive and garlic. The third element involved the seaweed, marinated in chive oil and red wine vinegar and tossed with crumbled peanuts. Visually stunning, the dish ticked every one of the judges’ boxes.

Pastorin Black Box

Pastorin Black Box

Norm Pastorin drew the third position. He made a loose sausage of the elk meat, flavouring it with ginger, garlic, onion, egg and panko. The elk was so lean it needed work if it wasn’t going to end up too tense and firm; chef Pastorin solved that problem! He combined the sausage with squid so that when sliced it presented itself as a pin wheel. Two very distinct purées pleased the judges: a rich lentil purée and a lighter, more liquid emulsion using the peanuts and capers. Chef lifted the seaweed with vinegar, baked it to a crisp and then crumbled it into a dust that decorated the plate. He pickled the salsify, cut into thick ribbons, and also turned it into tiny crisp chips to add crunch – the judges wished they had a bag of those crisps to take home. Whole pickled peanuts brought more textural variety… And there was bacon as an added delight.

Trittenbach Black Box

Trittenbach Black Box

Next up, Jan Trittenbach used his elk to make a kind of loonie-sized empanada in a chewy pasta crust. A ring of poached squid proved beguilingly tender, posed at a jaunty angle over lentil and peanut granola. Caper beurre blanc had a lovely, gentle tang and chef’s salsify purée was creamy and super-smooth. Lightly pickled seaweed was involved with the other ingredients, not set far away and the elegant dish was finished with fresh chives and a single baby spinach leaf.

Batey Black Box

Batey Black Box

Matthew Batey took an altogether different approach. Inspired by the idea of raw, lean ground meat and capers, he made a dense tartare and baked a crisp, salty cracker to eat it with. Instead of adding egg to the tartare he quickly cured an egg yolk in soy, just enough so it kept its shape. The judges broke theirs and used the runny yolk as a sauce. Using judicious knife skills he roasted slices of the squid until it curled (its tenderness brought oohs and ahs from the judges) and crusted it with powdered peanut and lentil. A sauté of the seaweed with leek and garlic was most innovative and there were dabs of a yummy salsify purée on the rim of the plate. Why up there? Because chef finished the dish tableside by pouring on a little “umami broth” made from chicken stock, mushroom, spices and a suggestion of soy.

Chen Black Box

Chen Black Box

Alex Chen made a large meatball – one per judge – using the elk and the seaweed that turned out to be firm on the outside, almost raw inside. He used the juices from the pan to braise his lentils and set the meatball on top of them, crowning it with a petal of carrot. Keeping a polite distance lay a firm piece of knife-scored squid sautéed with lemon and – over there – a purée of caper and salsify spiked with miso. Crisply fried salsify ribbons were predictably delicious and two watercress leaves reminded us of his masterful sense of colour.

Cantin Black Box

Cantin Black Box

What would Guillaume Cantin do with his seven ingredients? He too made elk meatballs, but one third the size of chef Chen’s. His seared squid was among the morning’s most tender renditions and both it and the meatballs were set over a ragout of crushed peanuts, seaweed and lentils, cooked al dente. The creamiest of salsify purées was a major crowd-pleaser and the dish was moistened with a caper vinaigrette enriched by the cooking juices from the elk. Lemon zest and parsley leaves were the final garnish.


Cameron Black Box

Cameron Black Box

Stuart Cameron’s dish was fascinating. He decided to make dumplings, filling the tender wrapper with the elk meat, spiced up with chili and cumin – lovely flavours that had the judges nodding. The dumpling rose like a pale mountain from a landscape of braised lentils (their tenderness very welcome) while the morsels of crispy fried squid seemed made for dipping into a vibrant green mojo verde sauce, as tangy as it was vividly green. But the squid already had a dipping partner in a lovely seaweed aïoli. Chef had poached the salsify in a classic way, cutting the roots into buttery little drums that showed off their ephemeral flavour perfectly. A sweet peanut crumble finished the dish. It scored highly with all the judges so it was something of a tragedy when we learned that Chef Cameron had gone over time by a substantial two and a half minutes, incurring a 20-percent penalty. Time management is one of the raisons d’être of this competition – hence the harsh penalty. It was the only mishap of the day, and it promised to be horribly influential on the final results.

Lepine Black Box

Lepine Black Box

Next up was Marc Lepine. He made elk meatballs – tender, perfectly cooked and glazed with a yummy sweet-and-sour sauce. Each judge got two alongside a third sphere – a dense, rather dry falafel made with the lentils that had been tossed in a salsa verde spiked with the capers’ pickling juice. A spoonful of squid and seaweed salad was a demure sidekick to the meatballs and a peanut and miso sauce was available as a thick condiment to the elk. The salsify made two appearances – as a purée and as crispy fried ribbon fringed with black (chef had not peeled the root) and perforated to add visual interest. A caper gastrique, coriander leaves and soft fronds of the seaweed finished the plate.

Cradock Black Box

Craddock Black Box

Darren Craddock sent forth our penultimate plate. He had cooked the elk into a ragout and tucked it up against braised lentils – al dente – that were studded with bacon. The squid was marinated in lemon juice, olive and cilantro then battered and fried. A strip of its body and a tentacle lay on top of the lentils, their contrasting textures giving the judges plenty to talk about. Salsa verde made with caper juice had a lively, tangy flavour that perked up the dish nicely. A dot of carrot purée stood as the younger sibling to the main event of salsify purée; Chef used the peanuts as a finishing crumble for a salad of watercress and chopped capers while the seaweed was tossed in a caper lemon vinaigrette.

Thauberger Black Box

Thauberger Black Box

Jonathan Thauberger rounded off a long morning with an elk sausage studded with peanuts – a pretty presentation and the morning’s most successful use of the elk. Perhaps he sensed the judges might be weary of braised lentils so he puréed his with a little goat cheese and used them as the stuffing for a wee pastry puff. He chose to pickle the squid with fried capers (it was markedly tender) and made a fine julienne of salsify which he tossed into a salad with the seaweed and the smaller tentacles from the squid. Dime-sized slices of beet and a drizzle of beet gastrique provided refreshing acidity while dots of a green parsley-spinach oil added contrasting colour.

So there we were, we judges, weighed down by lentils but otherwise most impressed. We had hoped for creativity and we certainly found it. We crunched the numbers. The back of the pack from the previous evening had caught up well. Chef Cameron had slipped back thanks to his time penalty. Chefs Batey, Thauberger and Pastorin were pushing up the ranks and now pedaled alongside the leaders. But the top marks for the Black Box went, once again, to Marc Lepine. Would he – could he – be caught?



I will leave it to others who were there to describe the jubilant mood, the great music, the compelling speeches, the general splendour of the Grand Finale. We judges were busy in our private room, addressing our minds and palates to the eleven signature works of art presented by our chefs. Ten of them were the dishes that had won gold in their respective cities, pondered and finessed and reprised for us tonight. I had tasted them all during the fall campaign and knew their manifold strengths. Only Alex Chen decided to create a new dish since many of his ingredients from the Victoria Gold Medal Plates competition were autumnal and Chen’s views on seasonal food are strongly held. Without further ado, here’s how it went down.

Batey Grand Finale

Batey Grand Finale

Matthew Batey, Calgary. A slice of octopus terrine is a beautiful thing, the circles of white tentacle of different sizes set in a sapid purple matrix like a polished surface of rare porphyry marble seen through a microscope. That was the base of Chef Batey’s dish, a sheet of octopus pressé limned with a pale yellow jelly made from chosen wine. On top of it sat a hefty cube of alder-smoked sablefish, firm but juicy and full of flavour. At one end was a crisp-coated croquette of mashed potato dressed with a yellow sabayon flavoured with sea urchin and garnished with a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar. At the other, tangy cubes of pickled apple. Moments of orange jelly brought a citrus component; a softer red beet jell showed as a line of dime-sized dots. It was a dish of fine balances, sudden intensities of flavour and interesting textures. Chef’s wine, Road 13 2011 sparkling Chenin Blanc from Oliver, B.C., was a fine, tight, acidic brut bubbly that refreshed the palate with every sip.

Andrews Grand Finale

Andrews Grand Finale

Roger Andrews, St. John’s. He called his dish “Eggs on Toast” and described it as a play on the elements of a classic caviar service. Visually, it was stunning, like a display drawer of specimens in a Victorian natural history museum, each component equally spaced, each one a perfect example of its species. Three generous mounds of Acadian sturgeon caviar. Two pieces of shallot-scented toast, as crisp and thin as elfin melbas. Two leaves from the oyster plant that look like lamb’s quarters but taste, miraculously, like an oyster. A frond of sea asparagus with its natural, Neptune-given saltiness. A single perfect meringue representing the egg white of a caviar service, scented with pink peppercorn. Two elements stood for the egg yolk, the first being two mounds of bright orange, crumbly powder made by drying scallop roes and then grating them as a sort of bottarga: their flavour was benthic, eggy, marine. The second yolky moment were the three pools of lemon curd sour cream. We haven’t even come to the main event – two quenelles of sea urchin bavarian giving another exotic, distinctive taste of the ocean. Then there were individual grains of buckwheat toasted to a crunch and a final sprinkling of a green herb that looked like rosemary but tasted far more subtle. It was an extraordinary dish, full of flavours and aromas, true to its theme and beautifully matched with a smashing Nova Scotian bubbly, Benjamin Bridge 2014 Tidal Bay from the Gaspereau Valley.

Thauberger Grand Finale

Thauberger Grand Finale

Jonathan Thauberger, Regina. “Fruits de mer in dashi…” One expects a soup, but no. Chef’s dashi was a reduction of rabbit, chicken and duck stocks, flavoured with bonito and dulse and then fined and refined until it was as clear as a topaz and a firm jelly at room temperature. Before it solidified, however, chef hid treasure inside – a plump, juicy sidestripe shrimp. This jelly was set as a hollow square shape, the perfect receptacle for a delicate turmeric aïoli. On top of it lay a single, small octopus tentacle, poached six or seven times until it was beyond tender then marinated. Beside this sat three thick slices of very rare scallop, its edges stained with beet juice. The third element was a perfect croquette of lobster mousse, its surface golden and crisp, its secret heart a surprise of caviar. A lightweight, super-crispy salmon skin chicharron finished the dish. No starch. No mitigating purée. Pure deliciousness – and a very good match with the wine of the competition, Le Vieux Pin’s 2014 Ava, a Rhône-like blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne from the South Okanagan.

Pastorin Grand Finale

Pastorin Grand Finale

Norm Pastorin, Winnipeg. What happens when you confit salmon fillet in shallot-infused oil? It ends up like this – soft, slippery, densely textured and delectable. Chef cut us a thick piece and set it over his version of tamagoyaki – no mere omelette, but a perfect yellow disc of yolk, a millimetre thick, no more, so that it almost looked like a pattern on the plate. On top of the salmon was a heavenly crumble of salmon roe, minced bacon and quinoa. Pickled shallot rings gave tangy acidity; a soy-ginger-anise glaze boosted the already potent umami. A mound of delicate, fresh, un-massaged green kale leaves were dressed with a ginger-onion-garlic-sesame dressing. The last flourish was seaweed, brushed with mirin and vinegar then toasted and ground to powder until nothing remained of it but a pinch of dust scattered the white expanse of the plate. “Few wines can work with this sort of soy umami,” opined chef as he presented the dish, but he had found one that could in Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s 2013 Chardonnay from the Okanagan.

Salvador Grand Finale

Salvador Grand Finale

Martín Ruiz Salvador, Halifax. Chef’s wine, the elegant, oaky, impressive 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay from Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, was his inspiration, with its classic French style and local fruit. So he presented a Nova Scotian take on four classical French dishes, each self-contained and involving rabbit and whelks (those delicious maritime “escargots”). His interpretation of a ham hock and parsley terrine used confited rabbit shoulder and sea parsley topped with a dab of bone marrow remoulade and a bonnet of soft sea lettuce. A drum of rabbit loin, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with chopped whelk had its own sauce presented in a hollow whelk shell – a gorgeous concoction of ceps, Dijon mustard, cream and rabbit stock. The third element was a “cassoulet” – rabbit leg stuffed with a ragout of white beans set on a parsnip purée and scattered with green edamame beans and lardons of smoked rabbit belly. To finish, he gave us a teaspoonful of rabbit liver parfait on a piece of poached McIntosh apple topped with a confit of onion, mustard seed and honey. A tiny rabbit-suet chicharron was the scrunchy envoi. Such a refined and intricate dish and a sound match for that Chardonnay!

Lepine Grand Finale

Lepine Grand Finale

Marc Lepine, Ottawa-Gatineau. Serving his dish in a bowl with a poured-on broth allowed Chef to be sure that the many flavours and textures of his dish reached our palates in groups rather than on their own. The result was an ambrosial mosaic of sweet and smoky effects. Front and centre was a cube of succulent applewood-smoked steelhead trout, stickily glazed with miso, molasses and Newfoundland screech. Its weight anchored a soaring hoop the size of a bracelet made of a tuile batter scented with toasted fennel and coriander seed. Lurking in the bowl were other treats – nameko mushrooms, little fronds of dill weed, fennel pollen, yellow beet, pieces of cured and confited pork belly and a loose porridge of barley and corn. Over this, chef poured a clear broth brewed in a spirit-heated cona and infused with corn cobs, miso and smoked carrot “bonito” flakes. The hot liquid brought all the elements together, the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and a beautiful compliment to Le Clos Jordanne 2012 Chardonnay from Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench.

Cameron Grand Finale

Cameron Grand Finale

Stuart Cameron, Toronto. Here was a stunning dish in a different flavour key than we are accustomed to, full of subtle, exotic Levantine aromatics. At its heart were two quail breasts pressed together to form a single piece of meat, cooked sous vide most precisely and glazed golden with a jus made of the quail bones scented with orange flower water. Beside it lay a cigar-shaped borek of crisp pastry filled with almost liquid foie gras mousse. Next to that, Chef had mounded a gremolata of Iranian pistachios with fried chili flowers, orange, viola petals and ras el hanout spices. A dab of rose petal jam brought its own perfumed sweetness. The wine match was sublime – Benjamin Bridge 2013 Nova 7 from the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia, an off-dry sparkling wine made from seven different varieties of muscat and heady with the aromas of grapes and gardenia.

Craddock Grand Finale

Craddock Grand Finale

Darren Craddock, Saskatoon. Wild boar from Golden Prairies, Saskatchewan, was Chef Craddock’s chosen protein and he presented two cuts. The first was a wee drum of the neck meat, cooked sous vide and scented with Indian spices. The second was a slice of unctuous belly glazed in pungent birch syrup. As accompaniments, he played with textures of apple, sunchoke and cherry in a umber of ways. Here were cubes of compressed crabapple poached in his chosen wine; there were molecular pearls made from those ultra-flavourful Saskatchewan cherries and another cherry marvel – a sparkling powder like Christmas glitter. The sunchoke appeared as a smooth purée under the meat and again as crispy little chips. Off to one side was a mound of mustard seeds infused with the wine, which found many entrees into the dish, most notably with the crab apple. It was the 2014 Old Vines Block Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan and it proved an impressive match.

Chen Grand Finale

Chen Grand Finale

Alex Chen, British Columbia. What can a master chef do with chicken and celery? Alex Chen shows us. First, he made a tender ballotine of juicy chicken meat stuffed with sticks of black truffle and tarragon that only seemed to lift the aroma of the truffle higher off the plate. A wand of crisp, bacon-like chicken skin lay across the timbale like a drumstick on a drum. Beside it was a form of celeriac fondant (where one might have expected potato) and on either side was a finger of celery, its hollow stuffed with a lightweight foie gras mousse. Shavings of radish and truffle lay on top. Chef finished the dish with a broth that he knew would steal the show – a translucent consommé like liquid umami made from older chicken, oxtail and charred celeriac then boosted in its later stages with dried porcini. Together with the truffles and the complex fats of the chicken skin it formed a broad and stately bridge into the chosen wine, the mature Foxtrot Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir from the Naramata, a match that many of the judges deemed “awesome.”

Trittenbach Grand Finale

Trittenbach Grand Finale

Jan Trittenbach, Edmonton. Imagine a piglet rooting about for mushrooms on a forest floor… This dish seemed to illustrate the moment. Chef Trittenbach turned to pork for his Grand Finale, starting with a juicy roulade stuffed with ricotta and wrapped in a skin of leek. Beside it stood a slice of the belly, soft and luxe beneath a bronzed surface. Between them towered a giant mushroom – but no, the cremini cap (lightly marinated in soy, sesame and vinegar) sat on top of a stalk made from a porcini tuile tube filled with bacon “caviar.” Mushroom duxelles was also on stage, hidden inside a cylinder of sweet potato ribbon. Dots of golden beet purée and spinach purée added colour and earthy flavours but the real “earth” was a soil made from powdered beets and pistachio that soaked up the juices from the pork. As a finishing touch, chef scattered edible flowers and microgreens, turning the “forest” into a garden. His wine match was a complex red blend from the Okanagan, Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Three.

Cantin Grand Finale

Cantin Grand Finale

Guillaume Cantin, Montreal. Our last dish of the weekend provided us with the most flawless beverage match of all, an amber ale called À Table!, brewed with 16 spices and fruits by Brasseurs du Monde de Saint-Hyacinthe. It has a citrussy, hoppy complexity that Chef Cantin used as inspiration for his dish. At its heart stood a cylindrical piece of the shoulder muscle of a suckling piglet from the renowned St. Canut. Even without its maple syrup glaze, the meat was beguilingly sweet and tender. A little puck of boudin noir was marvellously moist inside its nicely darkened crust. As a take on “pork and beans” we were given “pois au lard,” firmish field peas baked to a traditional recipe with bacon lardons cured from the piglet’s cheek. On top of the pork was a coarse “ketchup” of saskatoon berries, its gentle tang cutting the sweetness of the maple and some pale discs of turnip lightly pickled with tarragon. Tarragon was another flavour chef had found in his ale and he had strewn the plate with it alongside anise and butternuts that tasted like mild-mannered walnuts. As I found in Montreal when I first tasted it, this was a surprisingly complex dish but its true quality emerged when you put a bit of everything on the fork and tucked in.

Eh bien… We had tasted everything. It only remained to gather in the marks and see who would be summoned to the podium. Four chefs that evening had scored in the 80s – Messrs Chen, Batey, Cameron and Lepine and once again Marc Lepine had won this particular leg of the competition, just as he had won the Black Box and the Mystery Wine Pairing. And so we called our three medallists up on stage. Chef Alex Chen won bronze. Chef Matthew Batey won silver. Chef Marc Lepine, an artist at the top of his form, is once again the Canadian Culinary Champion.

Thank you to all the chefs who competed, to all the judges who judged, the sous chefs and students who assisted their chefs, the wineries and winemakers and the brewery and brewer, our loyal audience in the Okanagan and across Canada, Lisa Pasin and her team, the Delta Grand Okanagan, all the volunteers and everyone else who helped to create such a splendid event.




Candian Culinary Championships 2016 part 1

09 Feb

We did it again! Off to Kelowna for the better part of a week for the tenth running of the Canadian Culinary Championships. The event has grown, to be sure, since the first iteration in Whistler, a decade ago. But it has stayed steadfastly true to the original idea – that it has to be a serious and seriously gruelling competition and as utterly fair as is humanly possible. Past champions have emerged from Winnipeg, Whistler, Calgary, twice from Montreal, from Ottawa, twice from Toronto and most recently from Edmonton. There is nothing else like it in the country. And, like everything to do with Gold Medal Plates, it is a proud celebration of Canadian Excellence.

That mandate extends especially to the team of judges joining me to adjudicate these Championships. I know what you’re asking: who could possibly possess the expertise and the moral authority to pass judgement on 11 of Canada’s finest chefs? The answer is: the Senior Judges from all the Gold Medal Plates cities – the best palates in the country. Starting in the East, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canadian Certified Chef, educator and owner of Chef To Go cooking school and catering company, BOB ARNIEL. From Halifax, the veteran restaurant critic of the Chronicle-Herald, BILL SPURR. From Montreal, restaurant critic, writer, lecturer and anthropologist, ROBERT BEAUCHEMIN. From Ottawa, author and broadcaster, restaurant critic and senior editor of Taste & Travel magazine, ANNE DESBRISAY. From Toronto, world class chef and the Director and Corporate Chef of the George Brown Chef School, JOHN HIGGINS. From Winnipeg, professional pastry chef, restaurateur and all-round gastronome extraordinaire, BARBARA O’HARA. From Saskatoon, food writer, journalist, sometime caterer and blogger at, NOELLE CHORNEY. From Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, MARY BAILEY. From Calgary, author, broadcaster and educator JOHN GILCHRIST. From Kelowna, the distinguished pastry chef and educator, chef instructor at Okanagan College, PERRY BENTLEY. From Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food guru for Western Living magazine, SID CROSS. And also from Vancouver, our Judge Invigilator, who enforces the rules of this competition, author, teacher, restaurant critic and editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, ANDREW MORRISON.

We judges are treated most generously in Kelowna. On Wednesday evening, having just arrived, we were all invited to a slap-up winemakers’ dinner at Quails’ Gate winery’s excellent Old Vines restaurant, hosted by the British Columbia Wine Institute. Some delectable bottles were opened and we had the chance to chat with key personnel from Gray Monk Estate Winery, Clos du Soleil, Daydreamer Wines, Nk’Mip Cellars and Quails’ Gate Family Estate Winery itself (its 2013 Rosemary Block Chardonnay was stunning with a dish of rare arctic char, celeriac purée, neptune grapes and chamomile-and-hazelnut butter). Chef de Cuisine Nav Dhillon prepared the feast for us – a stellar and highly refined series of courses featuring superb local produce.

On Thursday we went to Sandhill winery for the opening reception of the Championships – a chance for sponsors, media and other guests to meet the chefs, their sous chefs, the judges and the students from Okanagan College who will assist the competitors. The chefs were in fine form. Each one of them, of course, won gold at his regional Gold Medal Plates event. This year, amazingly, no fewer than six of them have competed at the Championships before, but let me name them all, travelling, like the sun himself, across Canada from East to West. The St. John’s Champion, from Relish Gourmet Burgers, is Chef ROGER ANDREWS. Our Halifax champion, from Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is Chef MARTÍN RUIZ SALVADOR. Our Montreal champion, from Les 400 Coups, is Chef GUILLAUME CANTIN. Our Ottawa-Gatineau champion, from Atelier, is Chef MARC LEPINE.Our champion from Toronto, from Byblos, is Chef STUART CAMERON. Our champion from Winnipeg, from The Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant, is Chef NORM PASTORIN. Our Regina champion, from Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar, is Chef JONATHAN THAUBERGER. Our Saskatoon champion, from the Riverside Country Club, is Chef DARREN CRADDOCK. Our Edmonton champion, from Solstice Seasonal Cuisine, is Chef JAN TRITTENBACH. Our Calgary champion, from The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar, is Chef MATTHEW BATEY. Our last competitor, the champion from the Victoria Gold Medal Plates competition, representing British Columbia, from Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar in Vancouver, is Chef ALEX CHEN.

As ever, the Canadian Culinary Championships consists of three separate competitions, each of equal importance in terms of marking. On Saturday morning we hold the Black Box competition – very intense. Each chef has 60 minutes to devise and prepare a dish for the judges using all seven of the secret ingredients inside the black box. On Saturday evening we hold the Grand Finale – anything goes as the chefs present their signature dish to all our guests and the judges. But we begin on Friday night with the Wine Pairing Challenge. The rules are simple. On Thursday, during our party at Sandhill, each chef was given a bottle of the mystery wine, selected by Gold Medal Plates National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason. There are no labels on it, no writing on the cork to give a clue to its identity. The chefs had 24 hours to taste the wine, assess it, and create a dish that they felt was the best possible match for the wine. To make it a little harder, they had to cook their dishes for 400 people and there was a limit to what they were allowed to spend on ingredients – the paltry sum of $500. Plus $50 for cab fare. That’s about $1.25 a head (Could you cook dinner for a dinner party with a budget of $1.25 a head? I couldn’t.). They had to buy all their ingredients with that money and they had to do all their shopping in Kelowna.

Trailed by camera crews, the chefs and their sous chefs and apprentices (the latter eager culinary students from Okanagan College) were all up before dawn, waiting for the local shops to open. By Friday evening, they were at their stations in the Delta hotel with an eager crowd curious to find out what the mystery wine might be and to taste the chefs’ creations. The guests vote on a People’s Choice award – an honour for the winner that has no bearing on the official judges’ marks. The judges themselves were sequestered away in a quiet room. This year they would judge this part of the competition blind, without knowing who had cooked which dish. Marks were awarded for the quality of the wine match (30%), for taste (30%), visual presentation (20%), texture (10%) and wow factor (10%). The wine that had inspired these dishes turned out to be the Gamay Noir from Tawse winery in Niagara – a medium-bodied, versatile red with good acidity to lift its spicy red fruit.

This year, the judges tasted this competition blind, sequestered in a room far from the madding crowd. There was a happy diversity to the dishes and a high standard all round. If this were the first, swimming leg of an Olympic triathlon I’d say all competitors held their own but three of them emerged ahead of the pack at the end of the evening.

Thauberger Wine Pairing Thanks for all our pictures to Dion Nel Photography

Thauberger Wine Pairing
Thanks for all our pictures to Dion Nel Photography


The first dish to appear, anonymously, was from Jonathan Thauberger. He proposed a single, tissue-thin rectangle of wagyu beef carpaccio, the colour of coral and with a natural sweetness. It was pretty cool to offer wagyu on such a minuscule budget! On top were crispy sliced mushrooms that tasted of brown butter, a teaspoonful of a runny gorgonzola dolce, dabs of a red fruit gelee that reached deep into the flavours of the wine, a cracker like a curved wand and a final grating of bottarga to boost the meat’s umami. Garnishes added to the textural variety – pomegranate seeds, fresh arugula leaves, a single peeled grape (a polite acknowledgement, perhaps, that we were in wine country). The whole dish was pretty as a picture.

Cameron Wine Pairing

Cameron Wine Pairing

Our second dish (Stuart Cameron) was a heartier affair and one of the best matches of the night. Here was a thick slice of bison tenderloin, medium-rare and full of juicy meat flavours. Beside it were mounds of purple beet chopped as finely as a risotto. Dabs of thick, rich parmesan custard adorened the plate and chef achieved a sweet-sour effect with a drizzle of pomegranate reduction and three rings of beet-stained, pickled shallot. A crisp shaft of brittle pastry echoed the parmesan flavour of the custard and a pinch of finishing salt brought out the full savour of the meat.

Batey Wine Pairing

Batey Wine Pairing

Matthew Batey’s dish was third up (the order had been chosen at random). It was a doozey, intricate and full of suprises. As a protein he had poached smoked ham hocks in chicken stock, ground the meat and pressed it into a well-seasoned terrine: a rectangular slice of it dominated one side of the plate. Beside it lay a sleek purple quenelle of cherry sorbet (a bold idea to play with temperatures that way!) decorated with crunchy, translucent slices of raw golden and candystripe beet and finely grated fennel and fennel fronds. Outside among the crowd, Chef was describing the rest of his dish as “Flavours of New World Noir” and indeed the garnishes were a smart call-out to various illusions he found in the wine – a salty molecular beet “caviar,” shredded shallot for piquancy, dots of thick mushroom purée as rich as foie gras.

Chen Wine Pairing

Chen Wine Pairing

Dish Four (Alex Chen) was visually stunning – a cylinder of meat in a crimson pool, two mounds of a Lincoln green purée, a bright yellow drum – the colours of Burgundian roof tiles or of a very sophisticated traffic light. The meat turned out to be oxtail, taken off the bone and reformed into a disc – perfectly cooked and textured, rich, tender and delicious. Its crimson pool was a borscht emulsion with a resonant flavour. The green dabs were a stiff purée of parsley and garlic that served as a fine condiment to the oxtail. The yellow drum was sculpted fom a golden beet. There were other elements – a hint of a smoked mayonnaise, a round cracker with a hole in the middle that had the sweet grain taste of a Graham cracker; a green dust that we couldn’t identify; a tiny white radish sitting on top of the oxtail like an elfin comet… The judges were mightily impressed.

Craddock Wine Pairing

Craddock Wine Pairing

Darren Craddock’s unnamed dish appeared next. He had taken the bold and unconventional step of offering a soup in a wine competition – a rich, silky squash velouté subtly spiked with “warm spices” and speckled with bright green chive oil. Across the rim of the bowl he balanced a long, delicate cracker – a bridge upon which were mounded a succession of treats. Here was a mound of crumbled cashews, there some cremini mushrooms topped with pickled shallot; a pea-sized dot of chevre mousse; a brunoise of pale root vegetables. Without chef in the rom to explain we tasted the soup then tipped the other ingredients into it to enjoy them to their fullest.

Cantin Wine Pairing

Cantin Wine Pairing

Our sixth dish came from Guillaume Cantin who chose to work with chicken, using two sturdy discs of firm red beet as a base. Upon them was mounded tender and flavourful pulled chicken meat dressed with a sapid, glossy, perfectly textured reduction of chicken stock. Chef had taken the chicken skin, crisped it and then crumbled it as finely as panko crumbs, which he scattered over everything. There were delicately sliced white mushrooms to be seen and a fine dust of pink peppercorn powdered the plate. Tiny purple basil leaves were the finishing garnish.

Trittenbach Wine Pairing

Trittenbach Wine Pairing


Dish number seven (Jan Trittenbach) was beautiful to behold. A circular cracker was set on its side, hooping up over a generous chunk of braised beef that was set on a little round plinth of firm polenta, crisply bronzed in the pan on one side. A yellow gastrique served as sauce. Beside this little sculpture stood a tiny ribbon of zucchini, turned into a hollow cylinder and filled with goat cheese mousse. Dime-sized discs of red and golden beet picked out a sweet earthy note in the wine.

Andrews Wine Pairing

Andrews Wine Pairing

Our next candidate (Roger Andrews) sent in a creation that looked just like a rectangular slice of an ice cream sandwich, but it wasn’t ice cream. Chef had made a pressing of goat cheese and cut out a substantial block, topping it with a slim sablé of graham cracker and cinnamon. On top he mounded a salad of toasted hazelnuts and shaved celery ribbons tossed with fragments of jelly made with cherry blossom honey. The plate was decoarted with large dots of a tangy beet and lingonberry sauce that formed a clever bridge into the Gamay.

Salvador Wine Pairing

Salvador Wine Pairing

Martín Ruiz Salvador’s creation was the ninth of the evening and it set off in a very original and visually beautiful direction. A roll shaped like a canneloni was wrapped in smoked salmon and contained a generous amount of Dungeness crab meat. This tube lay on a pool of smoked parsnip fumet with the texture of a light purée. On top of it was a teaspoonful of Acadian sturgeon caviar, which chef had acquired at a most advantageous price, showing his bargaining skills. Firm celery root, diced compressed beets and morsels of crisped bread paid court to the salmon roll.

Lepine Wine Pairing

Lepine Wine Pairing

Our tenth dish came from Marc Lepine. Introducing it to the crowd in the ballroom he called it simply “Surf and Turf” but there was quite a lot more than that going on. Hopops of crisp, impossibly delicate fried potato rose above the plate, held in place by a firm chunk of seared, salt-cured ling cod. Beside it was a mound of pulled oxtail, moist and flavourful from its slow braise. There were cubes of beet and cubes of potato, dainty rings of leek. The dish was finished tableside by the servers (and I should interrupt here to say that the servers waiting upon the judges throughout the weekend were impeccable in every way). They poured on a hot beef broth, deeply but subtly flavoured with a mixture of spices of which only star anise stood out in any individual way. A smudge of umebashi paint was allowed to seep into this broth adding a moment of sharpness. Yes, there was a lot going on, but the dish’s internal harmonies were finely judged and the wine match subtle but most effective.

Pastorin Wine Pairing

Pastorin Wine Pairing

For our final consideration, Norm Pastorin sent out a single ravioli stuffed with venison, the pasta nicely judged in terms of tenderness, the meat deliciously seasoned. The dark sauce that dressed it seemed to echo the flavour of the braise. Dabs of a blue cheese mousse contributed richness and depth; a mound of eggplant caponata added refreshment and a valuable vegetable balance, as did the peppery arugula leaves scattered on top. A sweet crumble of candied pine nuts finished the idea.

The judges sat back and the conversation began, the marks were crunched into the computer program that would compile them across the weekend to come. We agreed it was a strong showing, full of variety and imagination. Three front runners had emerged – first out of the water and onto their bikes in the culinary triathlon – Alex Chen (whose dish also won the People’s Choice award that evening), Stuart Cameron and, ahead by a neck, Marc Lepine.


Tickets for the Canadian Culinary Championships

20 Jan




Kelowna, B.C. – The 2016 Canadian Culinary Championships presented by Deloitte. is taking place in Kelowna, BC February 5-6, 2016. Events have strong ticket sales and events are already surpassing sales from previous years with 80% of tickets for each event already being sold.

Tickets for events can be purchased online at or by calling 647-328-0149.

Eleven chefs compete in three events over two days, challenging their skills, endurance and ability to think quickly with the goal of being crowned champion.

Attendees at each event have the opportunity to enjoy the dishes created by each competitor along with their wine pairings. Guests attending the Grand Finale will enjoy live music from Barney Bentall (Legendary Hearts) and John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder from Spirit of the West, have the opportunity to bid on incredible live auction items exclusive to the Canadian Culinary Championships and cheer on all competitors as we witness who makes it to the podium in 2016.

Tickets are available for two key events including:
Friday, February 5, 2016
Mystery Wine Pairing
Chefs are given a mystery bottle of wine and must create a dish with local ingredients that best complements the mysterious vintage, in a set amount of time and with a set budget. Guests will have the pleasure of sampling these creations on the opening night of the competition in a stand up cocktail reception format. During the event, guests will taste the mystery wine and play ‘judge’ as they vote on the ‘People’s Choice Award’ for the best wine and food pairing. A silent auction of rare wines and other experiences will also be featured. Food and wine included. Cost: $145 plus tax

Saturday, February 6, 2016
Grand Finale Competition
On the final night of competition, anything goes. Chefs create their best dish for guests to sample, paired with a great wine from their regional winery partner. By evening’s end, Canada’s Champion Chef of 2016 will be crowned and a victory celebration will be staged including live music by Canadian music icons Barney Bentall (Legendary Hearts) and John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder from Spirit of the West. Food and wine included. Cost: $275 plus tax

“We are entering our 6th year hosting the Gold Medal Plates Grand Finale – the Canadian Culinary Championships. It is very gratifying to see how the community has embraced this event,” comments Judy Burns, Event Chair, Canadian Culinary Championships. “The Championships are one of the most significant culinary competitions held in Canada, attracting many of our top culinary talents. We are proud to have the opportunity to showcase to all of our guests locally and from abroad, the bounty Kelowna and the Okanagan has to share.”

Chef judging will be led by James Chatto, Gold Medal Plates’ National Culinary Advisor and Head Judge and includes the following participating Gold Medal Chefs:
REPRESENTING BRITISH COLUMBIA – Alex Chen – Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, Vancouver
REPRESENTING CALGARY- Matthew Batey – The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar
REPRESENTING EDMONTON- Jan Trittenbach – Solstice Seasonal Cuisine
REPRESENTING REGINA – Jonathan Thauberger – Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar
REPRESENTING SASKATOON – Darren Craddock – Riverside Country Club
REPRESENTING WINNIPEG- Norm Pastorin – The Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant
REPRESENTING TORONTO – Stuart Cameron – Byblos
REPRESENTING OTTAWA – Marc Lepine – Atelier
REPRESENTING MONTREAL – Guillaume Cantin – Les 400 Coups REPRESENTING ST. JOHN’S – Roger Andrews – Relish Gourmet Burgers REPRESENTING HALIFAX – Martin Ruiz Salvador – Fleur de Sel, Lunenberg

“The culinary students at Okanagan College appreciate the opportunity to volunteer for the weekend and work under these very talented competitors, each year they are grateful for the experience and the knowledge they obtain,” comments Chef Bernard Casavant, Culinary Manager, Okanagan College.” “Kelowna is becoming a farm-to-table culinary destination and our local Chef’s enjoy welcoming their peers to our community as well as enjoy the opportunity to share stories and cheer on the competitors.”

Event information:
Official Website:
Official Twitter: @GoldMedalPlates
Official Hashtag: #CCC2016

About Canadian Culinary Championships
The Canadian Culinary Championships is the finale of Gold Medal Plates – the ultimate celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, entertainment and athletic achievement. Celebrated in eleven cities across Canada in 2015, Gold Medal Plates featured superb wines and the premier chefs in each city in a competition to crown a gold, silver and bronze medal culinary team in each city, and subsequently nation- wide at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Founded in 2003, the goal of Gold Medal Plates is to raise substantial funds for Canada’s high performance athletes, while celebrating Canadian excellence. Since 2004, this event has received tremendous support and accolades all across Canada, and generated a combined net total of nearly $11 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes! For more information, visit the Gold Medal Plates website

The Canadian Olympic Foundation – Beneficiary of the Events Net proceeds from Gold Medal Plates are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support athletes through high performance programs such as Own the Podium. To learn more about the foundation and the programs it funds, please visit


Media Contact:
Christina Ferreira


Chefs For Change

10 Jan

Chefs-for-Change-promo-pic-web sm

A year ago, the first Chefs For Change evenings were a triumphant success, bringing together top chefs from the city and across the country for some amazingly delicious and convivial gastronomic collaborations. Well, they’re doing it again!

Five events, with the first one happening on January 21, all at Propeller Coffee, the brilliant roastery and event venue at 50 Wade Avenue, just a coffee bean’s throw from Bloor and Lansdowne.

The line-up for January 21 is most impressive –

Jason Bangerter, Langdon Hall Victor Barry, Splendido Chris Brown, Citizen Catering Justin Cournoyer, Actinolite Jonathan Goodyear, Magna Golf Club Sean MacDonald, Market (Calgary) Joel Rousell, George Brown College  Afrim Pristine, Cheese Boutique 

You can imagine how sensational the nosh will be! I’m definitely going.

And of course, it’s all in a very good cause. Net profits from Chefs for Change will help Community Food Centres Canada to support vibrant, food-focused organizations that bring people in low-income communities together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for healthy food for all.

Find out full details and the list of participating chefs for the other dates at

Event Details

Location: Propeller Coffee, 50 Wade Ave, Toronto ON

Date: January 21 + 28 | February 18 + 25 | March 3 2016

Tickets: $125/night (includes 4 unique courses, themed cocktail by Sandy De Almeida, the funky tunes of ¡DO!, and a few surprises!) Ticket buyers will receive a charitable tax receipt of $40 by email after the event.

Night of: Reception at 6:30 p.m. Dinner at 7 p.m.   A variety of local wine, spirits and beer will be available for purchase at reasonable prices. 




Saskatoon Gold Medal Plates

22 Nov

It took almost an entire day for the GMP team to get from Victoria’s Indian summer to winter in Saskatoon. I’m not complaining. I was in excellent company. And there were just enough minutes to check in to the hotel, change and get to Prairieland Park in time to greet old friends. It was a spectacular event and a fitting denouement to a rip-roaring tour. This time, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue shared MC duties – brilliantly, I must add – while, musically speaking, we were privileged to welcome the core of this year’s campaign: Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Jim’s two sons, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy, and special guest Danny Michel. They played and sang with such verve and energy the crowd had no choice but to give a standing ovation.

They did the same thing for our gold medal-winning chef, chosen by a tip-top judiciary panel led by our Saskatoon Senior Judge, writer, caterer and dining columnist for Planet S magazine, Noelle Chorney, together with poet, author, restaurateur and co-founder of Slow Food Saskatoon, dee Hobsbawn-Smith; chef and restaurateur Megan MacDonald of Sushiro and Duck Duck Goose; chef and culinary instructor Michael Beaulé; chef, restaurateur, educator and food guru Moe Mathieu; and of course last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Chris Hill of the Delta Bessborough hotel. It was a pleasure spending the evening with such fine palates and such discerning minds. In every city, the team of judges we assemble – volunteers all – do a difficult task superbly well. Looking back on this campaign, I feel enormously proud of the network of 60-or-so expert gastronomes who judge for Gold Medal Plates. Taken together, they comprise Canada’s most qualified and extraordinary culinary college.

Darby Kells won bronze

Darby Kells won bronze

But the chefs…! We awarded the bronze medal to Darby Kells of Riverdale Deli and Capanna. He called his dish “farm to plate” and it was as pretty as a garden with edible flower petals, tiny “thinning” carrots as slender as a pencil lead, and a host of other scattered morsels – lightly pickled mushrooms, crispy carrot dimes and green sprouts and herbs. All of these lay on a mound of edible soil,which piqued the interest of one of our judges who is a self-confessed albeit part-time geophagist, but turned out to be made not of actual loam but a crumble of dehydrated mushrooms, breadcrumbs and roasted cocoa that tasted most strongly of porcini. Chef finished the garden with a sprayed-on mist of white truffle oil and porcini stock. Meanwhile there was a mighty protein in this dainty Eden – a pork tenderloin cooked sous vide and sauced with a reduction of pork bone stock browned with lactose powder. Chef Kells’s chosen wine was a good match – a minerally 2012 Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.

Scott Torgerson took silver

Scott Torgerson took silver

Scott Torgerson of the Radisson hotel won our silver medal with a succulent brined and hay-smoked pheasant breast glazed with a super-subtle birch syrup. This golden-skinned meat sat on a soft, warm pillow of foie gras mousse, lapped by a little pool of pheasant jus. Baby patty pan and crookneck squashes and a tangy pearl onion were the bird’s adorable sidekicks, nesting amidst fried fennel fronds and strewn with hemp hearts and crushed hazelnuts. To compliment these delicate woodsy flavours, Chef presented the 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay from Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in Oliver, B.C., an excellent decision.

Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!

Gold for Darren Craddock (again). Thanks to Noelle Chorley for the image!


Who won the last gold medal of our campaign? For the sixth time this year it ended up around the neck of a chef who has won before: Darren Craddock of Riverside Country Club. He chose to work local Golden Prairies wild boar, starting with a drum of the neck meat cooked sous vide and subtly scented with a version of five-spice powder. The meat had the texture of a top-quality sausage, nicely contrasted by the boar’s other incarnation as a beautifully textured pork belly cooked for 48 hours and glazed with birch syrup. Chef played to the natural sweetness of the meat in a number of sophisticated and delectable ways – tiny pearls of cherry mead and a cube of wobbly cherry jelly. Chunks of marinated and another gel from crab apples. Sunchoke chips and a stripe of apple gastrique spiked with cardamom and cinnamon. Seedlings of peppery baby mazuma and chard brought a fresh, chlorophyl edge to the plate. The necessary acidic contrast came from a terrific mustard infused with the chosen wine. There were a lot of flavours happening on the plate – eating it was an exciting adventure – but the wine rose to the challenge, gliding amiably around the palate, quarrelling with nothing and finding real affinity with the apple moments in the dish – the crisp, lightly acidic 2010 Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

So there you have it. Bravo Chef Craddock! The line-up for the Canadian Culinary Championship is now complete, and it is going to be a hell of a contest! Here are the gold medallists from each city (an asterisk means that chef has won before). We will be welcoming them to Kelowna in February to find and celebrate the next Canadian Culinary Champion.

St. John’s        *Roger Andrews – Relish Gourmet Burgers

Ottawa                        *Marc Lepine – Atelier

Toronto           Stuart Cameron – Byblos

Calgary            Matthew Batey – The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar

Halifax                        *Martín Ruiz Salvador – Fleur de Sel

Regina             *Jonathan Thauberger – Crave kitchen & wine bar

Edmonton       *Jan Trittenbach – Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Winnipeg         Norm Pastorin – The Cornerstone

Montreal          Guillaume Cantin – Les 400 Coups

Victoria           Alex Chen – Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar

Saskatoon        *Darren Craddock – Riverside Country Club


Saskatoon Wine Report

By Rob Dobson

Regrettably, David Lawrason, the National Wine Advisor for Gold Medal Plates, had to miss the Saskatoon event. He was in Toronto, teaching a group of potential sommeliers. If you have seen the movie Somm, David was being the distinguished, rather stern-looking gentleman asking the trembling candidates to name nine Croatian grape varieties.   Who could begrudge him that kind of fun?!

Capably stepping in for David as acting head judge was Robert Peterson-Wakeman, one of Saskatoon’s finest palates. Filling out our panel were Dawn Wreford, the WSET-trained, head purchaser for Saskatoon’s excellent Co-op Wine and Spirits store; Derek Morrison, a London, England-based wine professional who was born in Saskatoon; winemaker and Champagne-lover Gavin Jensen and myself, Rob Dobson, wine writer and Certified Wine Educator.

The wine judging portion of Gold Medal Plates recognizes the excellence and generosity of those Canadian wineries, brewers and distillers who support the GMP cause by donating their products. A shout-out also goes to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority who have made it possible for Saskatoon’s competing chefs to source from Canada’s best wines, beers and spirits. Consequently, Gold Medal Plates has become a spectacular opportunity to experience some of Canada’s very best culinary, musical and oenological talents, while supporting our Olympic athletes. The judging process also subjects the wines to the same friendly spirit of competition that the participating chefs endure and that our Olympic athletes live for.

Saskatoon’s chefs seem to favour British Columbia wines, as there were eight represented. Two very fine wines from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula were also poured and, as seems to be a growing trend in culinary competitions, a complex locally-crafted beer was matched with one of the dishes.

On to the judging.

The Bronze Medal went to Hester Creeks’ 2014 Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano. This is Canada’s only commercially available Trebbiano and it is made from a small block of vines that were brought to British Columbia’s Golden Mile Bench from Italy about 40 years ago. Trebbiano is an under-appreciated white grape variety that is used to produce much of Italy’s inexpensive table wine. However, in this case, it has been elaborated into a surprisingly rich wine, with tropical fruit flavours and a long, mineral-infused finish. It was a beautiful match to Chef Darren Craddock’s Gold Medal-winning wild boar dish. This wine was my personal favorite of the evening and I will be rooting for this dark horse when it goes to Kelowna to compete with the heavyweights at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

As our Silver Medalist, we chose the 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir from Orofino Winery in the Similkameen Valley in British Columbia. Orofino has established a track record for producing world-class wines and the winery belongs to a young couple from Saskatchewan, John and Virginia Weber. On this evening, their 2012 Pinot showed lovely varietally-correct aromas with a tight core of focused red fruit. This wine had a sense of energy and precision that won the judges over. It also made it onto the culinary podium as a foil to Chef Darby Kells’ Bronze Medal pork tenderloin dish.

This year’s Best of Show award went to the 2012 LaStella Fortissimo. LaStella is situated in southern British Columbia on Osoyoos Lake. Being in the warmer part of the province allows them to fully ripen their red wine grapes. LaStella Fortissimo is their riff on the Super-Tuscan style of wine and they have pulled it off magnificently. All of the judges loved it. This wine is a blend of 39% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance being Sangiovese. This big red offered luscious flavours of chocolate, anise and pepper. The Merlot gives it richness, the Cab Franc keeps it fresh, the beautifully-resolved tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon contribute a velvety mouthfeel and the Sangiovese adds a crisp finish. Very much a complete wine. Bella!

Saskatoon was the last stop on the 2015 Gold Medal Plates campaign until the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna next February. Much like the final gig on a rock band’s tour, there was an elevated level of energy among the athletes, chefs, guests and volunteers who began the party to the outstanding music of recent Order of Canada recipient Jim Cuddy along with Colin Cripps, Anne Lindsay, Danny Michel, Devon Cuddy, Sam Polley and then continued late into the evening at the lively after-party that Saskatoon has become famous for.

Thanks to the producers who generously donated the following wines and beer in support of the Saskatoon event:

Stoneboat Vineyards Piano Brut, Okanagan Valley, BC

Hester Creek Estate Winery, 2014 Old Vines Trebbiano, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kevin O’Leary 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, ON

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Chardonnay, Oliver, BC

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, BC

Orofino Winery 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, Similkameen Valley, BC

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2012 Baco Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC

Red Rooster Winery 2013 Hen House Ruffled Red, Cabernet Franc/Merlot, Okanagan Valley, BC

Kacaba Vineyards 2012 Cabernet/Syrah, Niagara Peninsula, ON

LaStella Winery 2012 Fortissimo, Okanagan Valley, BC

Prairie Sun Brewery 2015 Batch 88 Oyster Stout, Saskatoon, SK



Victoria Gold Medal Plates 2015

22 Nov

Our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, is wont to describe Gold Medal Plates’s Victoria event as one of the country’s great parties, the western equivalent to GMP St. John’s, and I’m not about to disagree. A storm had blown in off the Pacific the night before, taking down power lines, but all was restored by Thursday and a warm sun shone down from a placid blue sky as our super-efficient local and national teams set up the show in the Victoria Conference Centre. It turned out to be a superb evening, with Curt Harnett in top form as MC and the great Adam Kreek interviewing the dozens of athletes in attendance. And the music! We had our largest band ever on stage – and surely the entire room was on its feet dancing and pogoing when John Mann sang “Home for a Rest.” Up there with him was Jim Cuddy, Matthew Harder, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Sam Polley, Dustin Bentall, as well as Spirit of the West’s Tobin Frank on accordion and Daniel Lapp on trumpet and fiddle.

The culinary side of things was every bit as exciting. We invited chefs from across British Columbia, including a strong contingent from Vancouver, and each one of them brought his A game. For the judges, this meant much pleasure and delight braided into the night’s work and we had fun at our table, tasting in a private room away from the madding crowd. The panel is a most impressive line-up, led by our joint Chiefs of staff for British Columbia, Senior Judge Sid Cross – one of Canada’s great authorities on food and wine – and Senior Judge Andrew Morrison, author, critic and editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, together with writer, editor and culinary judge Shelora Sheldan; hotelier, restaurateur and recipient of the Nation’s Table Governor General’s award, Dr. Sinclair Philip; sommelier, chef, writer and founder of EAT magazine, Gary Hynes; and of course last year’s gold medal-wining chef, Kristian Eligh of Hawksworth.

Ned Bell's tribute to the shoreline

Ned Bell’s tribute to the shoreline

We awarded the bronze medal to Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, Vancouver, the only chef in the history of Gold Medal Plates who has competed in three different cities – Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. He built his dish around his chosen wine, the 2014 Stella Maris from Sea Star Vineyards on Pender Island. It’s a dry, crisp, aromatic white blend of five grapes – Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Schoenberger and Ortega, and Chef Bell echoed this with five kinds of shellfish, all freshly shucked at his station and piled into two mounds on the plate. The freshness and quality of the seafood was impeccable – thick slices of sweet raw Great Bear scallop with a dusting of grated scallop roe “bottarga;” mussels and clams, briefly steamed and then even more briefly marinated; a whole oyster in its shell topped with a creamy oyster emulsion; gorgeous, juicy side stripe shrimp poached for seconds in a broth of kelp and ocean aromatics… This variety of textures and flavours was nicely set off by dabs of tangy crab apple butter and then finished with a covering of foam made by reducing the cooking liquid for the mussels and clams and adding some cucumber for freshness. The final touch was a pair of tiny cucumber and lime meringues, one for the top of each billowing mound. “I wanted to show off the ingredients in their cleanest form,” said Chef Bell, “but adding components that naturally blend together with the Stella Maris. I imagined the waves crashing, the froth and aroma of the ocean at the foot of the vineyard on Pender Island with the shellfish and seafood only steps away…”

Chris Whittaker's hearty tortellini

Chris Whittaker’s hearty tortellini

Chris Whittaker of Forage, in Vancouver, won the silver medal. His dish looked relatively simple on the plate but it offered a huge depth of irresistible flavours and accomplished the technical challenge of cooking fresh, tender pasta for 600 guests without batting an eyelid. Whittaker is a chef who honours and makes much of his suppliers and was proud to explain that some of the produce on the dish came from Covert Farms, in Oliver, in the Okanagan, which was also the source for his chosen wine, the ripe, dense 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. There was a sliver of Covert Farms onion at the bottom of the dish and Covert Farms potato crackling on top – like brittle shards of crispy bacon. The main event was a giant tortellini, warm, soft and delectable, filled with a profoundly flavourful ragout of Turtle Valley bison heart and tongue, braised to perfect tenderness. For extra moisture and richness, Chef had added a little bison liver mousse and then reduced and strained the braising liquid to a topaz-coloured jus. A wee dab of tomato jam on top of the pasta added sly acidity but the crowning glory were some juicy yellowfoot chanterelles. A single leaf of sheep sorrel was bright green feather in the cap. This was a dish, agreed the judges, that you would want to eat all the time, that would be a star on any restaurant menu.

Alex Chen's head-to-tail terrine

Alex Chen’s head-to-tail terrine

Our gold medal went to Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Vancouver. Seeking to “evoke a sense of Autumn and Balance,” he presented a warm terrine of head-to-tail pork. There was a long, rectangular slice on each plate like an extraordinarily beautiful mosaic studded with crimson pork tenderloin, morels of jowl, crunchy ear and tender tongue as well as nubbins of foie gras torchon and perigord truffle, all bound in a herb-flecked matrix of pork farce. Beside this multi-textural slice were complimentary elements – a whole glossy chestnut as shiny as Christmas; celery that had been seasoned with a lemon vinaigrette and then compressed (adding lovely freshness); a tiny dome of gelee in which floated pickled mustard seeds and flecks of charred leek; a single blood sorrel leaf. Chef had made a glorious jus for his warm terrine, starting with the pork juices but then adding oxtail, bonito, dried mushroom and parmesan until it was an umame bomb, strained and purified but not reduced so far as to be sticky. All of this was contained most precisely between two lines of brown butter-carrot purée, as precisely drawn as a railway track. The wine match was one of the best of the evening – the stunning 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Foxtrot Vineyards in Naramata.

Congratulations to Alex Chen – see you in Kelowna next February! And congratulations to all the chefs and their teams, who performed magnificently. It was a terrific evening and it has produced a most worthy champion.


Victoria Wine Report

Foxtrot Pinot Noir Takes it All in B.C. by David Lawrason

A textbook Naramata pinot noir waltzed off with two top honours at the Victoria edition of Gold Medal Plates, winning Best Wine of Show as well as accompany gold medal winning chef Alex Chen of Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar to the podium. The gorgeously appointed Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir placed in the top two of all five judges, sporting wonderful cherry fragrance beautifully integrated with oak accents. On top of which it showed great depth of flavour.

It stole the thunder in a very strong line-up of wines. In second spot, and again garnering votes from all five judges, came the impeccably balanced if not hugely powerful CC. Jentch 2013 The Chase, a blend of merlot and cabernet from the Okanagan Valley’s newly-minted Golden Mile Bench appellation. In third spot came Tinhorn Creek’s 2014 Gewurztraminer, a particularly fragrant and focused dry edition that has placed in other cities as well. Both runners-up were served during the Celebration portion of the evening.

The Best of Show Award is designed to showcase all the wines donated to the event (a complete list is below). In Victoria five judges gathered before the event to taste, rate and discuss the wines, beers and cocktails poured by the chefs, and donated to the VIP Reception and Celebration.

Three of the five judges were from Victoria. Sharon McLean is a leading wine educator teaching WSET and a partner in the Cru Consultancy with Treve Ring. Brent Muller is deep into his WSET studies and helping prepare for the imminent opening of Vessel Liquor Store. Daniel Stiefvater is a sommelier with Trialto Wines, one of Canada’s leading wine agencies.   And from Vancouver we were joined by Sid Cross, a legendary wine taster and long-time judge of Canadian wine with the former Canadian Wine Awards. Sid doubled us as a culinary judge at the event as well.

There was great diversity across the line-up this night, with an even split of white and red wines. I was particularly intrigued by the range and quality of the “alternative” whites. There were no chardonnays, pinot gris or rieslings this night, showing a willingness by the BC chef community to venture into other less well known varieties that have a strong future in the province. I was very taken by the Joie Farm 2014 Muscat and a semillon by a new Okanagan winery called The Hatch.

But I was also intrigued by two Vancouver Island whites. Sea Star 2014 Stella Maris – which took a bronze medal after being thoughtfully paired with shellfish by veteran chef Ned Bell of YEW seafood + bar at the Vancouver Four Seasons – is a very finely tuned Alsatian-style blend of five local varieties including pinot gris, gewürztraminer, ortega and schoenberger – all grown on Pender Island. And from the Cowichan Valley came an exotic petit milo, a newly developed hybrid from the Blattner family of Swiss hybrids.

The Vancouver Island theme continued very strongly through the selection of fine beers from Vancouver Island Brewing, and in three different gin-based cocktails from local distillers. We were of course on home court of Victoria Gin, a national sponsor of Gold Medal Plates. But a new bourbon-barrel-aged gin from DeVine served by chef Castro Boetang turned the judges heads. Another cocktail by Okanagan Spirits Gin also wowed – an exotic beauty based on West Coast Spice Vermouth, blackcurrant, orange and juniper bitters.

Silver medal chef Chris Whittaker took the biggest red to the podium, a whopping, texturally very rich, organically grown 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon by Covert Hills of Oliver. And Gold medal chef Alex Chen, brilliantly matched the Foxtrot Pinot to a head-to-tail pork terrine, earning Foxtrot a berth at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February.

Here is a complete list of the Victoria wines, beers and spirits presented in judges tasting order.

Stoneboat Piano Brut Okanagan, BC

Sea Star Vineyards 2014 Stella Maris Pender Island, BC

Unsworth Vineyards 2014 Vintners Selection Petit Milo, Mill Bay, BC

Fairview Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC

The Hatch 2014 ‘hobo series’ Semillon Kelowna, BC

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2014 Gewürztraminer

Joie Farm 2014 Muscat, Naramata Bench, BC

Fairview 2013 Crooked Post Pinot Noir, Golden Mile Bench, Oliver BC

Summerhill 2013 Organic Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, BC

Foxtrot Vineyards 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir Naramata, BC

Calliope Figure 8 2014 Red, Okanagan Valley, BC

Hester Creek Block 3 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Okanagan Valley, BC

CC Jentsch Cellars 2013 “The Chase” Golden Mile Bench, BC

Covert Farms 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oliver, BC

Victoria Gin Classic Gin Martini

DeVine New Tom Barrel-Aged Gin Old Fashion Saanich, BC

Vancouver Island Brewery Islander Lager

Vancouver Island Brewery Mile High

Vancouver Island Brewery Hermann’s Dark Lager









Montreal Gold Medal Plates 2015

17 Nov

Things are done differently in Montreal. Instead of a Gold Medal Plates gala, we join together with our national sponsor, Deloitte, and our friends from Montreal Impact, gather 100 guests and set off to tour the city. We are divided into five groups; we visit five restaurants; we reassemble and the party goes on while the judges confer. In the end, the medals are announced and the new Montreal GMP champion is crowned. That’s how it went down last night – at five very different, very sophisticated restos. We were joined by Olympians Isabelle Charest and Jen-Luc Brassard and by Impact stars Hassoun Camara, Cameron Porter and Maxim Tissot, and everyone agreed the evening was a splendid success. Indeed, the only dissent was in the judges’ room after the dishes were tasted, when we discovered that our gallant and hard-working judiciary – Robert Beauchemin (Senior Judge for Montreal), and writers Gildas Meneu, Rollande Desbois and yours truly –differed quite markedly in our assessment of the chefs. Debate was necessary, and even when we had come to a result upon which we all agreed, only one quarter of a percentage point separated gold from silver. It was as close as any 100-metre dash in the Olympics.

Dany Bolduc won bronze

Dany Bolduc won bronze

We awarded our bronze medal to Dany Bolduc of H4C who offered a delicate dish, exquisitely presented and full of subtle harmonies. A perfectly cylindrical canneloni stood on its end at one side of the plate like a glossy, four-inch, ivory-coloured tower. The pasta was so thin and soft you could almost break it by looking at it and inside we found a soft, subtle scallop mousse. Beside this was a slice of raw hamachi, partially rolled and set on its side – the fish’s natural sweetness and richness perfectly matched that of the scallop. A streak of white horseradish crème fraîche echoed the softness of the mousse and also cradled a teaspoonful of Northern Divine sturgeon caviar from British Columbia. Tiny dots of watercress purée and green apple butter stood at a decorous distance from the proteins; a brunoise of celeriac and a scattered pinch of powdered bonito finished the plate. Chef had found an excellent match for his ethereal flavours – the zingy, bright, off-dry Stratus 2014 Riesling from Niagara.

Takeshi Horinoue won silver

Takeshi Horinoue won silver

We gave our silver medal to Takeshi Horinoue of Lavanderia, a restaurant owned by last year’s gold medal winer, Antonio Park (a connection which Chef Park felt prevented him from joining us as a judge). This, too, was a dish of unabashedly soft tetures, centred upon a little block of Gaspor farm piglet flank, cooked sous vide until the white fat layers were trembling, the leaner meat barely blushing pink, then finished in the oven to give the skin a marvellous crunchy, chewy, sticky glaze. Two purées nestled up to the pork like discarded silk blankets – one of kabocha squash, the other a chorizo mousse. Hidden beneath them lurked a ragout of juicy corn kernels and white haricot beans poached in coconut milk. A farofa of dried and crumbled yucca flour was scattered lightly over a corner of the dish and there were two sauces – a subtle green thyme oil and gastrique made from the piglet’s own juices. Softness, richness, an underlying sweetness… The wine Chef chose seemed bold by comparison – the gorgeous 2012 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay from Hidden Bench in Niagara.

Gold for Guillaume Cantin

Gold for Guillaume Cantin

We hung our gold medal around the neck of Guillaume Cantin from Les 400 Coups. His dish might be described as a very suave take on pork and beans but it would be better to approach it from the same direction in which it was created, by starting with a consideration of the accompanying beverage. This was a fascinating beer called À Table! from Brasseur du Monde de Saint-Hyacinthe, a local micro-brewery. A reddish ale with a healthy sparkle, it includes 16 herbs and botanicals in the recipe, which together lend it a citrussy, hoppy complexity I found most compelling. Chef had tasted this beer closely and identified flavours in it that he then worked into his dish. But first, the pork – a thick slice of shoulder of suckling pig, cooked to a pink rareness and touched with a maple lacquer that avoided excessive sweetness and let the flavour of the meat shine through. Flanking this stood two tiny drums of boudin noir, soft and moist inside a delicate crust. Field peas, baked to an old recipe with motes of bacon cured from the piglet’s cheek, lay alongside, still firm enough to offer textural contrast; a compote of saskatoon berries played the role of ketchup, adding a gentle tang that cut the maple sweetness. Chef spoke of sunchokes and there they were – three slivers, the size of loonies, lightly pickled. Fragments of butter nut were strewn about to add their own nutty flavour and another textural shift. The final touch were some fresh tarragon leaves – another note Chef had found in the beer. It was a surprisingly complex dish when you analyzed what was going on but its true quality emerged when you put a bit of everything on the fork and tucked in.

So we have our Montreal champion. He will head to Kelowna in February! And now only two cities remain – Victoria and Saskatoon. I can’t wait.


















St. John’s Gold Medal Plates 2015

13 Nov

It is one of the happiest of all life’s coincidences that Gold Medal Plates St. John’s almost always takes place on my birthday. It’s a very good place to celebrate an anniversary, and a splendid group of friends to share it with, especially when the occasion is something of a milestone. One highlight was being called on stage so that the band could sing Happy Birthday to me – thank you, Jim Cuddy, Sam Roberts, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps and Devin Cuddy! They were all in very fine voice, thrilling the sold-out crowd at the Delta with the rest of their performances and helping to sell a ton of trips. The incomparable Tessa Virtue was the evening’s MC, to the delight of all, and Scott Moir conducted the interview of the athletes with great charm and energy.

Gastronomically, standards were as high as I can remember in this city that has become famous across Canada as a culinary destination. Our team of judges performed impeccably, led by our St. John’s Senior Judge, author, journalist and broadcaster Karl Wells with chef and educator Bob Arniel of Chef to Go; food writer and blogger for the Independent, Nicholas Gardner; chef, caterer and restaurant critic, Peter Gard; and last year’s gold-medal-winning chef, Mark McCrowe of Evoo.

Adam Grevatt used pork jowl

Adam Grevatt used pork jowl

Taking the bronze medal, Adam Grevatt of Blue on Water worked his chosen wine, the lightweight, frizzante, off-dry Selkie from Jost Winery in Nova Scotia, into his dish in a number of ways. His principal protein was a square of soft, unctuously fatty pork jowl sandwiched between slim layers of toasted citrus brioche – the most decadent sandwich you ever saw. Almost everything else on the plate was designed to cut such richness – and made excellent use of locl rhubarb and Nova Scotian honeycrisp apples. There was the apple balled and poached in a Selkie-infused caramel and there again as a Selkie and apple foam. Apple slaw was delightfully refreshing while an apple and parsley chip provided textural contrast. Chef had mixed the Selkie with rhubarb and formed wobbly little orbs of tangy flavour and used the rhubarb again in a ginger reduction to form a different, equally brisk purée. A final sprinkle of coriander and cardamom powder added an interesting floral note to the dish.

Roary MacPherson used local lamb

Roary MacPherson used local lamb

We awarded the silver medal to a veteran of our competition, Roary MacPherson of Oppidan. He chose local Newfoundland lamb (a hardy, exceptionally flavourful breed) as his main event, offering three different cuts. In the centre of the plate was a thick slice of the rolled, poached breast, the meat wonderfully tender and succulent. It was topped with a dab of sunchoke purée and a dense little dumpling to help mop up the juicuiness. Beside it was a mound of pulled shank meat that had been braised with a little pork and a vegetable mirepoix and now wore a crown of pickled and julienned rutabaga with pea shoots and microgreens. On the other side was a crisply coated croquette of moist lamb neck paired with a hummock of eggplant purée. The plate was painted with a broad stripe of haskap berry jus simultaneously tangy and sweetly fruity, and finished with a texturally fascinating granola of puffed rice, quinoa, oats, garam masala spices and a jaunty jalapeño jelly. It was a beautifully composed and presented dish, well matched to one of the evening’s big red wines, the Kraze Legs Merlot from Kraze Legs Vineyard and Winery in British Columbia.

Roger Andrews won gold with sea urchin

Roger Andrews won gold with sea urchin

And our gold medallist? As has been the case across the country this year, experience has been a factor in the creation of superior competition plates. Taking gold for the second time was Roger Andrews of Relish Gourmet Burgers with a dish that was elegant to look at and heaven to eat. Its main event was a rectangular slice of a trembling, moussy, honey-coloured sea urchin bavarian, its uni flavour perfectly judged. Chef had removed a round piece of the slice and set it on the other side of the plate then topped it with a teaspoonful of the splendid Acadian sturgeon caviar, topped with a curl of crisp shallot toast. The hole in the slice of bavarian was now filled with a morsel of chewy buckwheat crisp. Several elements were set out on top as a garnish, a clever play on the usual egg-and-onion accompaniments of a traditional caviar service. A tiny dome of pure white meringue represented the egg white; it was subtly flavoured with pink peppercorn and finished with three or four specks of cayenne. Playing the role of yolk were very fine shavings of a bottarga made by pressing and drying the vivid orange-coloured roes of scallops. It tasted like an amplification of the uni bavarian – such a flavour of the sea! Two curls of lightly pickled shallot stood in for the onion. The final components of the dish were three dots of rich lemon curd spaced far apart and topped with a green chive oil – optional condiments should anthing be required. Chef’s chosen wine was the best match of the evening – a lovely dry, sparkling white from Nova Scotia – Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay.

So we now have three Nova Scotian wines coming to Kelowna in February. I suspect tey will open some eyes in the rest of Canada! And chef Roger Andrews joins the increasingly impressive roster of champions who will do battle for the ultimate title. Three cities to go! Next Monday, Montreal!


Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2015

11 Nov
Marc Lepine won gold with this elegant creation

Marc Lepine won gold with this elegant creation

Ottawa is usually brumal and bitterly cold by the time Gold Medal Plates sets up there in November, but not this week! There was warmth in the sun that caught the last of the leaves in Confederation Park and put a smile on every face I passed. This is our second year in the spacious splendour of the Shaw Centre and the evening was once again totally sold out. The eager crowd loved the show (run as smoothly as butter by MCs Curt Harnett and Sylvie Bigras) and cheered like teenagers when the band began to play – Jim Cuddy, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy bringing the house down.

From the culinary perspective it was one of the best years I can remember in the nation’s capital, fully reflective of the exciting local restaurant scene. Our gold and silver medallists were jostling for victory right up to the tape so it was lucky we had such a great team of judges to sort things out. Leading the way was our Senior Judge, author, editor, restaurant critic, Anne DesBrisay, alongside author, television star and Canadian culinary ambassador, Margaret Dickenson; author, stylist, educator and culinary maven Pam Collacott; industry leader and owner of Thyme and Again Creative Catering, Sheila Whyte; Chairman of the Canadian Culinary Federation and executive chef of the House of Commons, Judson Simpson; and last year’s gold medal winner, Chef Patrick Garland of Absinthe Café.

Joe Thottungal took the bronze with his Keralan lamb

Joe Thottungal took the bronze with his Keralan lamb

Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon won the bronze medal. He had taken note of the Rio Olympics theme and his dish was a riot of bold colours. It also featured a quenelle of yucca and coconut mash as a tribute to South America, though the rest of the flavours on the plate owed much more to the magnificent cuisine of Kerala. Front and centre was a seared lamb loin cooked with garlic, lemon juice, star anise, chickpea flour, coconut il and green chili, then roasted inside a banana leaf parcel with a tomato masala marinade ( a heavenly harmony of spices with just enough chili heat to rouse the palate). The sliced lamb was set onto the yucca-coconut mash which itself was dressed with a spoonful of vividly yellow mango curry and a spicy green bean thoran. Fresh beet purée added colour and earthy sweetness while a mustard yoghurt kichadi brought yet another subtle flavour to the party. The finishing flourish was a maple leaf made from a crisp papadom. Chef Thottungal found a really good local beer for a most impressive match – Two Flags India Pale Ale from Dominion City Brewing Company.

Jon Svazas won silver with this extraordinary emu carpaccio

Jon Svazas won silver with this extraordinary emu carpaccio

Jon Svazas of fauna won our silver medal – a first-time competitor who took some ambitious risks and brought them off brilliantly. He chose to work with Quebec emu, slicing the lean meat into a delicately flavoured, slightly sweet carpaccio as the base of his dish and moistening it with white soy-miso emulsion to bring out the latent umame in the supple, subtle flesh. He had taken egg yolks, cured and dried them until they had the texture of bottarga; now he grated this over the emu like a carpet made of soft shards of gold. He slivered lightly pickled slices of matsutake mushroom here and there, and scattered broken walnut. A nest of matsutake crackers was ethereally brittle while baby blood sorrel leaves startled the eye with their crimson veined greenery. The last touch was a generous teaspoonful of Acadian sturgeon caviar, adding its salty intensity – a different kind of egg from the cured golden yolks, but a wonderfully welcome treat. Chef Svazas’s wine was a doosey and another fine match – the 2013 Unfiltered Niagara Peninsula Chardonnay from Norman Hardie Winery in Prince Edward County.

The gold medal ws awarded to Marc Lepine of Atelier. He won gold before, you may recall, and then went on to win the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in 2012. That victory ment he could not compete again in Gold Medal Plates for the next three years. This was his first time back and, once again, he aced it. There were many elements in his dish but by serving them in a bowl with a broth and a spoon to eat it, he ensured that flavours never reached our palates in isolation. Chef finished the dish at our table by bringing a spirit-heated cona from his station in which corn cobs were steeping in a miso and bonito broth as clear and tan as tea. This was poured into the bowl where the solid components had already been placed around the principal protein, a chunk of impeccably tender hot-smoked steelhead trout glazed with a sticky mix of molasses, miso and Newfoundland screech. Under the fish we found a loose, nutty porridge of barley and corn, the lovely, earthy, grainy flavours sharpened by crunchy coriander seed and a hint of lemon confit. There were soft little pillows of white cured pork belly and pieces of tender golden beet. Dill fronds brought a fresh herbal note and tiny smoked cinnamon cap mushrooms a fleeting impression of swetness and acidity. Chef had transformed carrot into flakes with the texture of bonito and he fnished the dish with a dramatic hoop made from a tuile batter scented with toasted fennel and coriander seed that rose up above the bowl like a crisp bracelet. An orchestra of flavours and textures – but playing sublimely harmonious music. Chef Lepine found a stellar wine for his match – the 2012 “Le Grand Clos” Chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara.

So the roster of talent heading to Kelowna in February continues to grow with another returning champion throwing his toque into the ring. It’s beginning to look as if it will be a true battle royale.

























Toronto Gold Medal Plates 2015

06 Nov


Victor Barry's amazing carrot

Victor Barry’s amazing carrot

Oh my goodness, what a great party that was!! Last night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Gold Medal Plates threw an amazing shindig – as smooth a ride as the new BMW we’re giving to the chef who wins the Championship next February, but with even more energy. Curt Harnett was our MC, the effervescent Marnie McBean interviewed (count ’em) 26 other athletes, while the whole idea of the Rio Olympics was expressed with a riot of feathered dancers, martial artists and drumming. And the band played on, to the delight of the sold-out crowd of 760 guests – Jim Cuddy, Royal Wood, Anne Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Devon Cuddy and Sam Polley totally rocking the house.

The food was no less spectacular, including delectable Scottish oysters, smoked eel and other marine delights at Patrick MacMurray’s extravagant raw bar – a non-competing addition to the event that created line-ups as long as any. The judges, of course, do not wait in line; dishes are brought to us at our splendid table behind the velvet rope while the accompanying wines are poured. It’s all very civilized. Last night’s posse had a fine old time, led by yours truly and acting Senior Judge Chef John Higgins, culinary director of George Brown College, flanked by the keen palates of author, educator and gastronomic guru Lucy Waverman; chef and genius of the airwaves Christine Cushing; author, journalist and culinary maven Amy Rosen; our special guest judge, gourmet extraordinaire Geddy Lee of Rush; and last year’s Toronto Gold Medal Plates champion, Chef John Horne.

The dishes we encountered were among the most imaginative of the year so far and four or five chefs could have made it onto the podium behind our gold medallist, who was a clear and unanimous winner. When the dust settled, we found our bronze medal going to a man who has won it before, Victor Barry of Splendido. His bold creation was a vegetarian treat – a perfect purple carrot, slow-roasted for five hours with butter, thyme and garlic then bathed in a gastrique of ginger, honey and coriander. Sprinkled with a crunchy granola of pumpkin seeds and coriander, it offered a deep quintessential carrot flavour, simultaneously, fragrant, earthy and sweet. Chef crowned the carrot with an equally fragrant cloud of orange foam and set it beside a deep-fried cracker decorated with dots of gingered date purée and spiced pumpkin purée, their soft textures delightfully at odds with the cracker’s chicharon-like crispness. The final element was a dollop of pungently smokey crème fraîche which held a puddle of pumpkin seed oil. It was all very autumnal and nicely contrasted by the incisive acidity of Hidden Bench’s excellent 2013 Estate Riesling, one of Niagara’s finest.

Damon Campbell's awesome lamb neck

Damon Campbell’s awesome lamb neck

We awarded the silver medal – for the third time in as many years – to Damon Campbell of Bosk at the Shangri-La hotel. He arrived at the judging table with a whole lamb’s neck on a carving board to show us what had been sliced and plated under the cloches set down by the servers. When they were lifted away the heavenly scent of the lamb was released – the braised neck amazingly tender and succulent. Beneath it was a mound of grains that looked like a risotto but was made from toasted wheat berry, rye berry and spelt, moisted with a hay cream and strewn with a brunoise of smoked lamb’s tongue. Chef had made a stunning copper-coloured crisp out of parsnip “bark” and scattered it with a few fresh white rings of shaved kohlrabi and piquant pink petals of pickled shallot. It was a profoundly delicious dish with its own suave rusticity, well paired with the 2012 Cabernet Franc from Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Stuart Cameron's exotic, fragrant quail

Stuart Cameron’s exotic, fragrant quail

Our gold medal went to a chef who has never before competed in Gold Medal Plates, Stuart Cameron of Byblos. He chose to work with quail, pressing two breasts together, cooking them sous vide then crisping the golden skin around the perfectly moist, wonderfully sapid meat. Beside the quail lay a tan-coloured borek the size of a Russian cigarette, a crisp tube filled with almost-liquid foie gras mousse. A dab of rose jam added exotic, floral aromatics – as did the colourful dried flower petals that were an integral part of the crunchy pistachio gremolata that shared the plate. The sauce was reduced from the quail juices spiked with orange flower water and the finishing touch was a tiny purple pepper blossom on the golden quail skin. It was a fascinating dish, full of subtle perfumes and unexpected textures, brilliantly matched with a similarly scented wine, the 2013 Nova 7 from Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia, an off-dry sparkler made from seven different varieties of Muscat.

So hats off to Chef Cameron, who will be travelling to Kelowna in February to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship. I have no idea if he will choose to reprise his gold-medal dish there – there is no compulsion to do so. If he doesn’t, we’ll just have to go to Byblos and pray it’s on the menu there. Next week, Ottawa and St. John’s!

And now here is David Lawrason’s Wine Report for our Toronto event

A Record Breaking Night For GMP Wine

Not only was the 760-strong crowd one of the largest and most generous of the year, the Toronto event cemented wine records as well. It boasted the largest number of different wines donated to a Gold Medal Plates (16 – see the list below). It boasted the largest, most illustrious cadre of ten wine judges, and it was the first time that we have served wines from Canada’s five leading wine appellations. From east to west they were: Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, Ontario’s Prince Edward County, the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. As Canada’s largest showcase for Canadian wine, it has always been my mission to have the breadth of the country’s wine on display.

But it was the lone B.C. wine – Osoyoos-Larose 2010 Grand Vin – that carried off the Best of Show Award. This is a wine that has come to define the highest aspiration of Bordeaux-style wine in Canada, a merlot-based blend of estate-grown varieties grown on bench lands above the border town of Osoyoos. It was established 15 years ago as a joint venture between former Vincor Canada and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, but now is wholly owned by the latter, with a young French winemaking team at the helm. The 2010 showed impressive depth and structure against its peers this night, garnering four first place votes and two seconds. It sells for $40 to $45 in most Canadian provinces.

The strong runner up placed in the top five of seven judges. It was the Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc, an intense, firm and fragrant red that will continue to age nicely for another ten years of more. And in third position we had a tie between two always popular whites – the intense, dry Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench and the racy, taut Norman Hardie 2014 Calcaire from Prince Edward County. Other wines that came within a hair’s breadth in the judging included the complex and profound Malivoire 2012 Mottiar Chardonnay and the impeccably balanced Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Riesling (my personal favourite)

The Best of Show Wine Award was created to gain exposure for the dozens of wines donated to Gold Medal Plates by Canadian wineries. Not only does the program highlight the wines it gives them exposure to some of the leading wine writers, judges, educators, sommeliers and retailers in the country.

In Toronto I called on ten of my friends and colleagues – the crème de la crème of Toronto’s wine writing and education community – and all responded. From WineAlign my close friends and National Wine Awards Judges included John Szabo, Master Sommelier; Sara d’Amato, President of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, Michael Godel, wordsmith extraordinaire and Margaret Swaine, one of the most prolific and well-travelled wine and spirits writers in the country.

We were also joined by Tony Aspler, founder of the Ontario Wine Awards, author of many books on Canadian wine, Order of Canada recipient and my friend and mentor of over 30 years. Michael Vaughan of Vintages Assessments has been writing about wine in Toronto just as long. Carolyn Evans-Hammond has just recently been named the new wine columnist for the Toronto Star. And we also welcomed Zoltan Szabo, a palate and gentleman about town extraordinaire.

This night we had a record number of wineries donating to our Celebration. Guests did not have all the same wines on their tables but this was by design in the spirit of diversity. The line-up included O’Leary 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay, Malivoire 2012 Mottiar Chardonnay, Fielding 2013 Viognier, Malivoire 2013 Courtney 2013 Gamay, Kacaba 2012 Cabernet Syrah, Colio Bricklayer Small Lot 2012 Syrah, Chateau des Charmes 2012 St. David’s Vineyard Merlot and Henry of Pelham 2014 Baco Noir.

The Best of Show Wine Awards program is all about the wines, but other wines rose to the top when it came to the chef pairings. Gold Medal Chef Stuart Cameron of Byblos will be taking Nova Scotia’s Nova 7 to the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. Silver medalist Damon Campbell of Bosk at the Shangri-La chose to match his Cumbrae lamb with Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc. And Bronze medalist Victor Barry’s very excellent five hour carrot was beautifully paired with Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling.

Here is the portfolio of wines served in Toronto 2015, presented in tasting order as presented to the judges.

The Whites

Benjamin Bridge 2013 Nova 7, Nova Scotia

Norman Hardie 2014 Calcaire, Prince Edward County

Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Riesling, Niagara Peninsula

Hidden Bench 2013 Riesling. Beamsville Bench

O’Leary 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula

Grange of Prince Edward County 2012 Chardonnay Select, Prince Edward County

Malivoire 2013 Mottiar Chardonnay. Niagara Peninsula

Pearl Morrisette 2012 Chardonnay Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme, Niagara Peninsula

Fielding 2013 Viognier, Niagara Peninsula

The Reds

Malivoire 2013 Courtney Gamay, Niagara Peninsula

Stratus 2012 Cabernet Franc, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Cave Spring 2013 Dolomite Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula

Kacaba 2012 Cabernet Syrah, Niagara Peninsula

Colio Bricklayers Small Lot 2012 Syrah, Lake Erie North Shore

Chateau des Charmes 2012 St. Davids Vineyard Merlot, St.David’s Bench

Osoyoos-Larose 2010 Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley

Henry of Pelham 2014 Baco Noir, Ontario